On this day in 1950… Gordie Howe fractures skull, suffers hemorrhage in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs

Zach Laing
1 year ago
It was 72 years ago today Gordie Howe fractured his skull in a playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The injury occurred when he collided with Leafs legend Ted Kennedy at the 8:37 mark of the third period. The 22-year-old Howe had “suffered a deep cut in his right eyeball, a fractured nose, a possible fractured cheekbone and a fractured skull, according to Manager Jack Adams.”
Howe was rushed to Harper Hospital in Detroit and underwent a three-hour operation to stop a hemorrhage caused by a broken blood vessel in his brain.
How the injury occurred, however, was up to much debate, the Detroit Free Press’ Tommy Devine wrote:
HOW HE WAS hurt brought forth a wave of conflicting stories. The version depended on whom you talked to.
There was only one point in which all parties were in agreement. That was: Teeder Kennedy of the Maple Leafs had possession of the puck at the Red line when Howe came up to check him. From there on the descriptions vary widely.
Here’s what Kennedy says:
“I had the puck right about center ice when I saw Sid Smith ahead of me. I passed ahead to him and saw Howe coming in to check me.
“I stepped aside and Howe crashed headlong into the baords. I’ll take an oath that to the best of my knowledge my stick never touched Howe. I’d never want to see a thing like that happen to anone. I skated over to the Detroit bench and told Coach Tommy Ivan that.”
Here’s Ivan’s version:
“If he didn’t hit Howe with his stick, why would he skate over and apologize? I am not saying it was deliberate but itw as a check made with the butt end of Kennedy’s stick. He isn’t the only player in the league who checks with the butt. Lots of them do.”
Capt. Sid Abel:
“How in the dickens can he say he didn’t his Gordie?”
Goaile Harry Lumley:
“Kennedy is a liar.”
“I have my own idea of what happened, but I’m keeping it to myself. I plan no protest to League President Clarence Campbell. The referee didn’t even call a peanlty on the play, so what could we do.”
Toronto Manager Conn Smythe:
” I had a perfect view of the play, although it happend on the other side of the ice from where I was sitting. Kennedy’s stick never touched Howe. Jack Stewart crashed into him after he hit the boards.”
That 1949-50 season had marked Howe’s fourth in the NHL and saw him set career highs in goals (35), assists (33), points (68) and in games played, with 70. Named to the second-team all-star, Howe was able to bounce back the next season better than ever.
The following campaign saw him score 43 goals and 86 points running away with the Art Ross Trophy outscoring the second-place Maurice “Rocket” Richard by 20 points.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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